— NASA’s Glory climate-monitoring mission is attracting the sort of congressional attention no program wants. During a spate of recent budget hearings,
lawmakers have been asking NASA officials to explain how the Goddard Space Flight Center-led mission had managed to overrun its budget by more than 30 percent in less than a year.
Luckily for Glory, the questions lawmakers have been asking have been more pro forma than pointed.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has laid the blame for Glory’s budget woes with the contractor building the satellite’s main instrument, a state-of the-art aerosol photopolarimetry sensor designed to measure the different types of tiny, manmade and naturally occurring particles in the atmosphere – including smoke, dust, sand, smog, volcanic ocean and sea spray – to better understand the role they play in global warming.
Glory’s Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) is being built by Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, Calif. NASA’s Glory Web site described APS as “a continuous scanning sensor that has the capability to collect visible, near infrared, and short-wave infrared data scattered from aerosols and clouds.”
Though polarimeters have flown in space before, they have not been used to measure the Earth’s atmospheric aerosols, and
is the first to admit that APS is a complicated instrument.
However, he said the problems Raytheon is having with APS are not of a technical nature, but managerial.
“Technically, the sensor is meeting its goals, but it is slow,”
told the House Appropriations commerce, justice, and science subcommittee during a March 5 hearing about NASA’s 2009 budget request.
Griffin said Raytheon’s progress on APS had “slowed to about 60 percent of the rate we had expected” during a period in which the company began transferring its civil space work from Goleta, Calif., to El Segundo as part of its planned closure of Santa Barbara Remote Sensing.
“It may well be that in the long run of that move and that consolidation of contractor work force in this particular case could be helpful. I don’t know. I can’t foresee that future,”
told the subcommittee. “But in the period of time where they’re building our sensor, work progress has slowed quite a bit.”
“In close coordination with our government customer, Raytheon initiated a move of the Glory APS program from
to El Segundo over a three month period – November 2006 to January 2007. This was part of a strategic decision to close Raytheon’s Goleta space facility and consolidate all of its space sensor design, development and manufacturing operations in one location,” Raytheon spokesman John Barksdale said March 14 in a written statement. “While some schedule disruption has been experienced, the program is now on track to deliver the APS payload this fall.”
NASA projected in 2007 that Glory would cost $168.9 million to develop and be ready to launch in December 2008. NASA’s latest public estimate, reported as part of the agency’s 2009 budget request, pegged Glory’s development cost at $220.9 million – a 31 percent increase – and showed that its launch had slipped to March 2009.
NASA officials have said Raytheon’s performance on APS is the lone trouble spot for the program. Glory’s other instrument, the Total Irradiance Monitor, and a pair of Cloud Cameras designed to support APS, already have been delivered and installed aboard the spacecraft.
A Long Time in the Making
NASA’s quest to fly an aerosol polarimeter in space dates back to the planning stages of the Earth Observing System, a program that was restructured multiple times before putting its first satellite in orbit in 1997. NASA dropped the aerosol polarimeter from the program and eventually settled on contributing such an instrument to the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), the next-generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites then entering development. In 2003, NASA announced that it was undertaking the Glory mission to launch the nation’s first aerosol polarimeter in 2007 – several years before the sensor was slated to fly aboard the first NPOESS satellite.
That was before NPOESS ran into cost and schedule problems of its own. Today, Glory is the only firm ride for APS, an instrument that has heritage dating back to the Pioneer and Voyager planetary- probe programs of the 1970s.
However, Glory’s instrument has more in common with a necessarily more complicated Earth Observing Scanning Polarimeter that Santa Barbara Remote Sensing designed for NASA’s Earth Observing System nearly two decades ago but never built, according to Larry Travis, deputy director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the agency’s science lead for the mission.
Travis said a slightly modified version of that instrument, called the Research Scanning Polarimeter, was eventually built by a smaller firm – Reno, Nev. -based SpecTIR – with the help of two key people hired away from
. That instrument has flown multiple times aboard an airplane, and Travis said algorithms developed from the collected data will be helpful when Glory finally flies.
“The APS as an instrument for spaceflight obviously has some important differences from the [Research Scanning Polarimeter], but the basic conceptual design is relatively similar,” Travis told Space News.
Glory is among eight spaceflight missions NASA identified this year in its congressionally mandated Major Program Annual Report as being significantly over budget or behind schedule.
Under the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, NASA is required to promptly notify Congress when a major program is expected to exceed its budget by 15 percent or fall at least six months behind schedule. A 30-percent breach requires additional notifications and carries with it the risk of program termination unless Congress authorizes the program to continue, either through an authorization bill or a specific appropriation, within 18 months.
Bill Adkins, a
based consultant who helped craft the notification requirements during his time as staff director for the House Science space and aeronautics subcommittee, said he does not see much of a chance that NASA will be forced to stop work on Glory.
“Glory presents an interesting problem,” Adkins said. “Congress must act within 18 months to keep the program going, but it is currently scheduled to launch in 12 months, so theoretically Congress could stop the program or let it die after it’s launched, but that won’t happen. I’m confident Congress will approve Glory to continue ahead.”
Adkins said he is more concerned that so many NASA programs ended up flagged for cost or schedule problems in this year’s report.
“NASA’s job is to push the envelope, so having a few programs that break the thresholds shouldn’t be surprising, and probably should be expected from time to time,” Adkins said.
“However, having two out of three programs breaking the thresholds is alarming. The costs and schedule estimates were established in either 2006 or 2007, depending on the program, so it’s a little worrisome that the thresholds were broken so quickly.”
Three of the eight programs – Herschell, Kepler and the NPOESS Preparatory Project – all made the list for the first time last year due to cost growth of up to 25 percent. Since 2007, according to NASA, two additional projects exceeded the cost growth threshold – Glory and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory – and three projects have slipped their schedules by at least six months. The three tardy programs are Aquarius, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
The Gamma-ray Large Area Telescope is slated to launch this May – eight months later than planned – and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – a telescope-equipped airplane – began making test runs this year and is expected to begin limited science operations in 2009. Aquarius, a sea-surface salinity instrument NASA is contributing to Argentina’s Satellite de AplicacionesCientificas-D (SAC-D) mission, is slated to launch in May 2010, a 10-month slip driven by spacecraft delays.
Adkins said it was too soon to tell whether the mandated program notifications, modeled after the Nunn-McCurdy notification requirements Pentagon programs must follow, would help NASA do a better job keeping its programs on track.
“I’d say the notification requirements are helping NASA [headquarters] and Congress do a better job of tracking programs, but have not been in effect long enough to know whether they are having a substantive impact on how programs are managed,” he said.